The End of NewsNet

By O'Leary, Mick | Online, January/February 1998 | Go to article overview

The End of NewsNet


O'Leary, Mick, Online


In the end, change killed NewsNet... the Web is just the greatest part of it.

"We-and a bunch of others-threw a ton of resources at a problem, without realizing that we were at the crest of a wave, and there was a bigger wave coming behind us."-Andrew Elston NewsNet's end came fast. Companies usually take a long time to die. They hang on through a lingering period of decline, they reorganize, they are bought and absorbed, or broken up and parceled out. But NewsNet went down quickly. Because it was so unexpected, most of us reacted with startled disbelief. Our second reaction, following soon after the initial shock, was sadness and dismay at the fate of our NewsNet friends. (See Sidebar "The Human Side.")

It was not long ago that things were looking good for NewsNet. At the end of 1995, the company had completed a major renovation, with a migration to a new generation of hardware, a new interface, and a Web version on the way. It was at its healthiest ever financially. Just a year and a half later, it was gone.

But, as they say, things happen fast in the Web age. The end of NewsNet was accompanied by comments that it was a victim of the Web. Indeed the Web, through the profound changes it causes in the way information is used, is the biggest factor. There were others, however: brutal competition from all sides, missed opportunities, misfortunes of timing-all overcome with heroic efforts until the very last moment. In the end, change killed NewsNet.. the Web is just the greatest part of it.

NEWSNET'S NEW IDEA

Let's recall that, in an earlier online generation, NewsNet was the new agent of change. It opened on April 1, 1982 with a fresh idea: full-text newsletters. The online powers of the time-LEXIS-NEXIS, DIALOG, and Dow Jones News/Retrieval-had full-text databases, but these concentrated on types of publications other than newsletters. Industry newsletters were new territory, and it made perfect sense; they provided timely, critical news for informationhungry companies and organizations. Over time, NewsNet's competition got the message and added their own newsletter collections, but the plucky little newcomer, which was far smaller than the others, always kept an edge.

Over the years, NewsNet grew through the steady accumulation of new newsletters and by expanding into innovative types of information. By 1997, it had over 800 newsletters, covering almost every industry and other topics as well. It added many kinds of data, including newswires, company directories, stock quotes, and brokerage house reports. In 1990, NewsNet achieved a great coup by becoming the first third-party provider of Dun & Bradstreet credit reports, one of the most highly coveted types of business information.

In the mid-90s, NewsNet realized that its mainframe-based, text interface system was obsolete. It undertook a complete restructuring, with a migration to client-server architecture and the development of Baton, a userfriendly Windows GUI, which was released in summer 1995. Work on the Web version began in early 1996. NewsNet for the Web was formally launched in fall 1996 at the ONLINE WORLD Conference-before DIALOG, News/Retrieval, or NEXIS had Web versions. With new, output-based pricing, NewsNet discarded its complicated connect-rate plan, long a source of complaint among searchers.

At the beginning of 1996, NewsNet was at its apex and the future looked promising. It had a collection of data that ranked it among the comprehensive business information services. It had completed a complex migration to modern platforms. It had its strongest revenues ever in 1994 and 1995. But behind this encouraging facade, change was rolling in rapidly. Powerful forces that had been gathering speed for years reached a critical mass and led to the sad conclusion of August 1997.

THE ORIGINAL PUSH TECHNOLOGY

In 1988, only a few years after NewsNet itself began, two companies emerged and quickly carved out prominent positions in the online spectrum. …

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